Chic Retreats’ CEO Amir Azulay took his wife and two young children to a Dubrovnik family resort on the Adriatic coast, Croatia for some late summer sun and a spot of Elafiti island hopping
Our latest attempt at a restful and relaxing summer vacation started with a short flight from Gatwick direct to Dubrovnik. Just under two hours and 20 minutes after leaving dreary London rain, we found ourselves basking in 28 degrees of cloudless sunshine, never mind that it was still only 9.30am.
A hospitable youngster in one the hotel’s people carriers was waiting to sweep us away, and 20 minutes later we arrived at Sun Gardens, 15 miles down the coast from Dubrovnik.
As Chic Retreats members, we were given a complimentary upgrade to the executive luxury suite – a 200 square meter apartment with perfect views of the Adriatic and the resort’s many swimming pools. What a way to start a vacation, in what must be one of the best boutique hotels Dubrovnik offers.
A hospitable youngster in one the hotel’s people carriers was waiting to sweep us away, and 20 minutes later we arrived at Sun Gardens, 15 miles down the coast from Dubrovnik. As Chic Retreats members, we were given a complimentary upgrade to the executive luxury suite – a 200 square meter apartment with perfect views of the Adriatic and the resort’s many swimming pools. What a way to start a vacation, in what must be one of the best boutique hotels Dubrovnik offers.
Our 5am start had slowed our boys down not a jot and by 11am UK time we had splashed through all five of the resort’s pools.
We found that Sun Gardens is a terrific place to take children and anyone interested in sport, wellness and the outdoor life, but foodies will be disappointed.
Despite prices being similar to London, we found Dalmatian food disappointingly mediocre. I was expecting salads full of flavour, feta to awaken my taste buds, and cold, crisp wines from the friable soil of the Dalmatian vineyards. Instead, the tomatoes were soft, the cucumbers were peeled, the olives didn’t taste like olives and the oil was a pale imitation of the Greek variety. Coffee-lovers used to the aroma of London’s freshly-ground beans will find themselves in the land of vacuum-packed Lavazza and espressos strong enough to put hairs on your chest.
‘Sleepy’ Sipan, Croatia: beaches away from the crowds
After two days at Sun Gardens, spent swimming in umpteen pools and exploring the stony beaches below the resort, we made our way across to the gorgeous island of Sipan, which is best described as ‘sleepy’. Its 300 inhabitants live in two coastal villages, Sipanska Luka and Sudurad, composed of stone houses and connected by a hilly pass (easier to traverse by Land Rover than on a morning run, as I discovered to my cost).
Adjusting to a small non-Chic hotel after the air-conditioned luxury of Sun Gardens, especially in very hot weather, was not easy – in fact at the end of the first day my wife and children both demanded to be taken back to the resort. But in the morning, before we headed to reception to organise our transfers, we decided to have breakfast on the outside patio overlooking the little bay. All at once, peace was restored. After breakfast we strolled down to the local beach for a swim in the Adriatic and everyone began to feel much better. This beautiful and relaxing little village port, far away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland and with no internet connection to distract with either work or play, is the perfect place to really unwind.
On the fourth day, we witnessed a spectacular thunderstorm, watching in awe with fellow guests as nature demonstrated just who was boss. After five hours of onslaught, the hotel was left with only intermittent electricity. The climate, by contrast, only got better – still hot, but less humid and freshened with a gentle breeze.
Dubrovnik, Elafiti Islands and the Dalmatian Coast
We soon discovered that Sipan is one of the Elafiti Islands, and that there are plenty more to explore. So off we went island-hopping. Our favourite was Lopud, a little more touristic and commercial than Sipan, but with gorgeous beaches which the locals are proud to say are sandy, not pebbly.
Kolocep is another gem – an evergreen island covered in a beautiful and intoxicatingly scented mix of pine, carob, citrus and olive trees. Its two small villages are called simply Upper and Lower Celo (the names sound more sophisticated in Croatian). If, like us, you have children under ten, I would recommend saving Dubrovnik for an adults-only visit, especially in hot, humid conditions. We made an attempt but quickly realised that these small creatures, who have us wrapped around their little fingers, need to burn energy and lots of it (particularly after hours of Kung Fu games on the iPad and a staple travel diet of pizza and ice-cream). They wanted back to the island and its sleepy shores, and their parents obliged – quite happy, if truth be told, to bask in a few more hours of Adriatic tranquillity before our return to London, school and work.
Croatia is in the EU but has stayed with the local currency of kunas not euros. Personally, I love the different currencies in Europe but I must admit, being stuck with a bunch of kunas at the end of the holiday is not very handy. Exchange rates are pretty good, with £1 fetching 10.6 kune (but you can round it down to 10 as the decimal point does not seem to have made it as far as Croatia).
Transfers to the island of Sipan were organised by our lovely hosts at Sun Gardens. There are cheaper public options, but be sure to check them out thoroughly in advance as empty boats don’t travel and will be cancelled unless the operator knows he has passengers. The public bus service is 15 kunas and tickets can be bought on board (don’t make the mistake of buying tickets in advance at the hotel; at 12 kunas, they are cheaper, but have to be used within the hour, after which they are invalid).
In Croatia, most beaches are shingle or pebbles, and while the locals tackle these easily, they are hard on the feet of visiting children and adults. We recommend rubber-soled swim shoes.
We learnt that it was safe and extremely refreshing to drink the tap water, although all restaurants will offer you bottled water as soon as you sit down (and some of the caps on the bottles did come off really easily…)